Vikings are down and Childress is out

Head coach Brad Childress watches the game as Vikings quarterback Brett Favre, background in center, leans against an equipment crate during the third quarter.
REUTERS/Eric Miller
Brad Childress watches Sunday’s game as quarterback Brett Favre, background in center, leans against an equipment crate during the third quarter.

Update: Childress out as Vikings coach

If you are intrigued by the lessons of the old morality plays when you watch the weekly hysterics of pro football, all about the perils of self-absorption, the Metrodome in Minneapolis Sunday was your showcase.

There the Green Bay Packers mangled the Minnesota Vikings 31-3, turning the two-year Brett Favre All The Time melodrama into a horror show directed by the young quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who replaced Favre in Green Bay. The embarrassment ignited intramural squabbles on the Vikings’ sideline, graduating into screaming in the locker room. It was a prologue to the dump-Brad Childress rant sweeping the state today in the media galleries, the Internet and that ultimate aerie of football wisdom, the sports bars.

It’s highly unlikely that Childress can survive it, whether this week or at the merciful end of the Viking season six weeks from now. The Vikings’ principal owner, Zygi Wilf, left the stadium in a silent slow burn that seemed to announce “loyalty goes only so far.” Whether Childress deserves the bulk of the blame is arguable but irrelevant. The team that was one fateful step away from the Super Bowl 10 months ago is now in shambles, and somebody has to pay in the richest and most unforgiving sports industry of them all.

Good teams, even average teams, aren’t supposed to lose by four touchdowns at home. The margin Sunday matched the worst in the Vikings’ history, coincidentally on the week when the Vikings were celebrating 50 years in the National Football League. It was a game the Vikings described in advance as the crisis hour of their season. With six losses showing in their first nine games, they called it a jungle battle for survival and they admitted they were fighting crocodiles to stay alive. Today there are only bubbles where the Vikings went under. The camaraderie of 2009, partly nurtured by Childress but mostly by Favre, was in shambles Sunday before they reached the locker room, where it got worse.

One of those awkward scenes during the game involved Favre and his pal who brokered his switch to the Vikings, the offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell. Another provoked a couple of Viking veterans to call out Chris Cook, the young defensive back who couldn’t do anything right against the Packer receivers. In the dressing later, it got worse.

The focus all season had been on Favre, who scored sensationally a year ago by bringing the Vikings to within one play of reaching the Super Bowl. But something happened to that year-old scenario. Maybe it was Favre’s 41 years, his aches and unconcealed lack of ardor for Childress as the coach. Maybe it was his right arm, which consistently overshot his receivers on his deep throws Sunday. Maybe it was the drumbeat of the rising, media-fed anti-Childress campaign — in which Favre sometimes looked complicit.

But it was a scenario where Favre’s refusal to gracefully call it quits on his extraordinary career was eventually going to take him. The irony of what happened Sunday was almost too thick. Three years ago Favre reneged on a decision he had solemnly announced to the world and Green Bay Packers. He was leaving pro football for the lotus land of retirement. A few months later he changed his mind and declared that he was returning to Green Bay to restore himself as the world’s most adored quarterback. The Packers resisted awkwardly. They reminded him that they had already installed young Rodgers as his successor, but he was welcome to compete for his old throne.

A mutually assured bitterness followed, engulfing everybody connected with the spreading burlesque three years ago. It split the Packer faithful, wrecked the Packer season and ultimately wrecked the season of the New York Jets, where Favre had migrated. A not-so- incidental casualty was Jets’ coach Eric Mangini, who got fired.

Sunday mismatch
On Sunday Favre once more faced his old playmates and specificallyAaron Rodgers, and it was a mismatch. When it was over Rodgers had thrown four touchdown passes, three of them to Greg Jennings, compiled 301 yards through the air and piled up a quarterback rating of 143.5, spectacularly high and not far from mathematical perfection.

Favre’s rating was 51.2, which combined with the 17 interceptions he has thrown through the first 10 games of the season has now dropped him to the lowest realms of the NFL’s starting quarterbacks. To his credit, and to preserve his role as caretaker of the Favre mystique, he has soldiered through the season. The man has guts plus a sworn disregard for calendars and for 250-pound blitzers, all of which had earned him additional income of $20 million the last two years and fresh new Wrangler pants anytime he’s in need. But the Vikings may have to ask today: At what price have they indulged Brett Favre’s refusal to yield the spotlight despite all of his years of glory?

Disheartened fans showed their lack of support for Brad Childress during the game's fourth quarter.
REUTERS/Eric Miller
Disheartened fans showed their lack of support for Brad Childress during the game’s fourth quarter.

The Vikings’ can hardly complain. They courted Favre shamelessly. Childress was one of them and absorbed the price again Sunday when the “Fire Childress” roars rolled out of the balconies between Rodgers’ touchdown passes.

One way or another, the crowd and the unsinkable bloggers will probably win the day and Childress is likely to be looking for new employment next year if not sooner, a casualty of Favre’s physical decline more than coaching delinquencies. Which would add one more coach to the impressive fallout in Brett’s three-year search for his personal grail.

His first year with the Vikings was a marvel. But the team was strong and making the playoffs when he got here. Unless the Vikings make the comeback of the century and win their last six, Favre will have played his last game for the Vikings in Detroit on Jan. 2, unless he re-retires before or is asked to sit for one more experiment with Tarvaris Jackson. Childress will probably be gone not long afterward if not before — ditched partly to meet the Vikings’ need for the excitement of a fresh start to launch their campaign for a new stadium. And the hunt will begin for another quarterback, which has been a nearly perennial Viking odyssey since Francis Tarkenton nearly 40 years ago.

Remaining games
Their schedule for the next six weeks is not terrifying. It includes Washington next week, Buffalo, the Chicago Bears, and Detroit — but also the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles of Michael Vick. The chances of a sweep there are pretty much non-existent.

It was an end- to-end debacle for them Sunday. They were competitive through the first half, but pretty much faded when the Packers decided to stop trying to create a running game and turned the offense over to Rodgers, Jennings, Donald Driver and James Jones. They were ahead 17-3 at halftime. And when Favre twice overthrew deep with receivers clear, the Packers made them pay with long drives led by Rodgers while the high-energy Packer defense hubbed on linebacker Clay Mathews and the veteran defensive back Charles Woodson smothered the Vikings.

The return of deep receiver Sidney Rice did not strengthen the Viking passing game, partly because the Packers dominated possession and harassed Favre enough to blunt his accuracy on the deep passes that might have kept the Vikings in the game. The best the Vikings had all day were Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin, both of them fearless runners with few opportunities to break out.

If Childress feels or resents the pressure, he doesn’t acknowledge it. “I’m at peace at night,” he told a radio interviewer last week .When it was over Sunday Visanthe Shiancoe railed about the ugly football his team was playing, challenging anybody within earshot “who is ready to pack it in” and threatening to call them out. Adrian Peterson didn’t seem convinced that everybody on the team was still playing to the hilt. As a matter of fact, neither did Childress, although he clearly has support from some significant players including Peterson, Pat Williams, Jared Allen, Shiancoe and others.

But they don’t sign the payroll. The team is at the stage where it no longer matters much. Childress knows he’s probably going to go, but he’ll worry more about his kid in Afghanistan than a call from Wilf.

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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Tony Spadafora on 11/22/2010 - 11:33 am.

    Zygi pulled the trigger…. HALLELUJAH!!

  2. Submitted by andy on 11/22/2010 - 11:38 am.

    If people followed politics the way we follow this nonsense we would never have gotten in the fix we are in.

  3. Submitted by Hal Sanders on 11/22/2010 - 11:57 am.

    Another great piece, Jim. It’s such a far cry from the regurgitated pablum we see by the fan-writers in the other media.

    Yes, Childress was fired this a.m. But this is clearly just an attempt by the owners to get a leg up on getting a stadium.

  4. Submitted by John Ferman on 11/22/2010 - 12:12 pm.

    Of all the sports writers, Jim Klobuchar is my all-time favorite. I am pleased to see he is still up to his customary form. Live on forever, Jim. About the Vikes – ho hum.

  5. Submitted by David Greene on 11/22/2010 - 01:01 pm.

    Frankly, I don’t care if the Vikings leave. The college game is much more interesting. As a bonus, we won’t have to buy a billion dollar palace that gets used 8 times a year.

  6. Submitted by Michael Hunt on 11/22/2010 - 01:18 pm.

    No, instead David we have a half billion dollar palace that is used for a college game that’s “so interesting” even the students can’t be bothered to attend.

  7. Submitted by Jim Roth on 11/22/2010 - 02:34 pm.

    I agree with #4. Well put, John.

  8. Submitted by Richard Rowan on 11/22/2010 - 04:09 pm.

    Good article but I disagree that Childress is more a victim of Farve’s decline than of coaching delinquencies. Childress’ coaching has always been uninspired. In my view, last year their success was inspite of Childress.

  9. Submitted by David Greene on 11/22/2010 - 05:02 pm.

    Michael, an op campus stadium is essential to the college game. Did we have to spend as much as we did? I don’t know. I do know letting Memorial Stadium rot was a crime perpetrated by the university against the students.

    Believe it or not, there is a football world outside Minnesota. Someone who’s taken in the experience of a USC, MSU, Michigan, Florida, Nebraska, etc. will understand what I mean. The college game is much more authentic. The players actually care about winning and generally have much more of a team attitude.

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